Have you ever faced a serious challenge in your life and felt yourself just buckle under the pressure? You know that it’s going to happen again, right? It really is natural to lose hope in difficult circumstances.
This doesn’t have to be you.
I believe that the way to find hope when facing challenges is to practise perseverance. And one way to practise persevering is to take up running. Let me demonstrate.
Living in Sydney, Australia, the annual City2Surf has become the world’s largest fun run and a major local event. 80,000+ participate in this event, ranging from elite runners, who are much faster than I will ever be, to the desk jockey who loses a bet and, with no training, takes up the challenge.
A Metaphor For Life
Running the City2Surf this year, I came to see this run as a metaphor for life.
Face Your Fear
Seven weeks out, I registered for the event. I then began alternating between feelings of excitement at the fun of the event and trepidation at the challenge of the event.
I started thinking about how I needed to train for the event, but, truth be told, I run on average 30kms every week, so running the distance was not really an issue. I ran 12 km one day just to be sure. Nevertheless, there are some significant hills on this run to be aware. Therefore, a plan was needed.
There aren’t any hard-and-fast rules for getting ahead in the world —just hard ones.
I also started to consider my goal for the event. Would it be to run for a certain time or to just complete the distance? Since a bucket-list-level goal of mine is to run in The North Face 100 ultimate marathon, running the 14 km of the City2Surf would be good training, setting me up for the next distance of a marathon. However, running the City2Surf sub-70 minutes would beat my time from five years ago. Which goal to choose?
When setting a goal, be sure of all the reasons for setting it. Make sure that it is the right goal for you. It has to be achievable! You will feel excitement to meet the goal, but fear to even attempt it. The weeks leading up to the event I vacillated between both extremes. This was not fun.
Face your fears, don’t give in to them.
Stick To The Plan
With the blast of the starting gun, I rushed out much faster than I should have. Of course, I did this hoping to get in a good position. While I was lucky enough to start at the front of my group, that still meant around 20,000 other eager runners behind and I certainly did not want to get trampled.
The problem is that I know I tend to speed up over the course of a race. When I start a race too fast, I have to fight to maintain my stamina over the whole course. So, I have learnt it is better for me to start at an easy pace and then gradually speed up. This way, I always have fuel in the tank for a strong finish.
Know yourself and stick to the plan! This is especially true in the City2Surf.
The first 5 km of the course has a few small hills, but it’s essentially downhill. This certainly gave me a false sense of ease and security. Aided by the music of live bands and onlookers cheering, it was too easy to think, “This is a piece of cake!” All the while forgetting the bands are not present during the harder segments of the course. The onlookers thin out when you really need them.
Make a plan and don’t be distracted!
When I was a young man I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. l didn’t want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work.
(George Bernard Shaw)
Another distraction along the way is unsanctioned people offer ‘drinks’ and ‘lollies’. Heaven only knows what’s in that liquid they’re offering or covering those lollies. I avoid these at all costs! I know where the sanctioned water tables are and I have prepared in my mind a plan for when and if I will drink (is it hot enough to need a drink?), what I will drink (will I need an electrolyte drink or water?) and how I will drink it (do I try to drink while running or do I sacrifice 10 seconds to walk and drink?).
Distractions lead to mistakes and mistakes can be costly, ranging from an upset stomach to a poor time at the end of the race.
Stick to the plan.
When it comes to the City2Surf, the big challenge is Heartbreak Hill. This part of the course lasts almost 2km and is relatively steep, rising 80m for an average grade of 3-4%. There is a 100m section that has a grade as steep as 10%! Everyone has to face the hill just after the 6km mark of the course.
According to Michael Hennessy, of Outfit Health & Fitness, “most recreational runners will take more than 10mins to conquer Heartbreak Hill”. Heartbreak Hill is a challenge, no doubt, but it is doable. Since most of my weekly running involves hills anyway, this part of the City2Surf course provides a chance for me to get ahead of the ‘slackers’ and the unprepared. I tend to pass people on hills because I hate them so much —the hills, not the people— and just want them to be over.
Face the hills, obstacles and other challenges that cannot be avoided, and press on.
Reaching the summit of Heartbreak Hill you think you’ve seen the worst of this fun run. For me, it’s the next 3km that I find painful. No one mentions this part of the course. Every corner reveals another hill to climb. They keep appearing until the 11km mark.
The 11km mark is my heartbreak moment.
By perseverance the snail reached the Ark.
This is the ‘last straw’, the low point for me. When I see that sign, I can’t help thinking, “I’ve gone ONLY 11km!”
There will always be challenges in life. Some you can prepare for, both mentally and physically, but others will come unexpectedly. In those moments, you just have to rally whatever stamina and resources you have left.
After the 11km mark, there is only 3km left. This final stretch is mostly all downhill, which, if managed well, can provide you an opportunity to make up time and put you ahead.
The problem is most people don’t train for the downhills.
Running downhill seems intuitively easy until you have to do it. In fact, I find running downhill harder than running uphill.
Running uphill, you simply dig in and push yourself forward. Running downhill, you have to run carefully, paying special attention to your balance and your foot placement. To fall on a downhill would be a disaster!
I’ve observed that most runners hold back on the downhills. Fear overwhelms them. Yet, if you train for the downhills you know to swing your arms more purposefully and take longer, more jumping strides. Gravity can be your friend. Without putting in any more effort, gravity can carry you forward faster.
Triumph is just umph added to try.
I approach downhills with a careful attack. I use them to gain time. This is aggressive, yet I am aware of every step.
Don’t hold back out of fear. Take advantage of the easy times, when the pressure is off, to get ahead.
At the bottom of the final hill, I can see the finish line … the problem is that we have to run past it, through a roundabout, and then come back.
This is an interesting experience. The exhilaration of finishing started, but I still had 500m to run; so, I had to hold my excitement in check, to not burn out too soon because…
I could see the gate ahead and put in all my last-ditch effort. I wanted to finish strong.
It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.
Crossing the finish line was such a thrill! I felt like my lungs were going to burst, but this was a good sign. If it hurts at the end, you know you have put in your best and there is nothing more satisfying. The pain is only temporary.
Then I began thinking about next year’s run.
When people asked me after the run how I did, they were impressed —I did come in the top 13.23%, don’t you know? I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but think I wanted to be faster.
The fact is that I finished, which gives me hope that I can achieve my potential.
One day, if I keep training, I’ll cross the 70min threshold or maybe I won’t. Maybe I am only capable of running the 14km of the City2Surf in 71min. But unless I go hard until I can’t go any more I will never reach my potential and I will have no one to blame but myself. I owe it to myself to make my dreams come true.
Even worse, I won’t know what I’m capable of until I challenge myself. And neither will you.
There is always hope. And, at the end of the day,
No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everybody on the couch!
Persevering Brings Hope
Since it’s true that no one is exempt from facing challenges in life, the key is to persevere. The way we respond to difficult trials and overcome them reveals what we are worth.
The apostle Paul explained how this works when he wrote:
We boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
How is it possible to find glory in our times of suffering? How does suffering produce perseverance, character, then hope?
When you are in the midst of difficult times, you can either crumple under the suffering or persevere. When you persevere, and come out the other end intact, you have then ‘tested your mettle’, proved yourself capable, put your skin in the game. That is what it is to have character.
Having survived and proved yourself, you then have hope that you can endure other challenges, which will come. When? Who knows, but having proved yourself, to yourself at least, brings a confident hope that you have what it takes to endure.
Additionally, for the Christian, knowing God is with you in the midst of your challenges helps. Knowing for certain that you are not alone, that His resources are available to you alongside your own, makes a world of difference. Hope is multiplied.
I [Jesus] have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
The apostle wrote about suffering that comes upon us all so as to give us hope that we can endure. While you cannot plan your suffering, I believe you can prepare yourself by practising with challenges you set for yourself, and with increasing difficulty.
Any Win Will Do
Back to my example of running: To run is to suffer. Let’s just get that on the table. Running is hard. If it’s not, then you’re walking.
No one has to run. Yet, in choosing to, there is glory at the end of the run.
Whether you have run your first 5km, 10km, half or full marathon, each race ends with a finish line. You don’t have to come in first to come in. To have completed the race is an accomplishment in itself. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
To get to the end of the race, you have to persevere through the suffering and perseverance comes with training. You might be able to rock on up to a 5km race and make it to the end through sheer will power, but endurance for longer challenges comes with increasing your distance a mere 10% each week. This is doable —Brett and Kate McKay remind us of The Kaizen Way to self-improvement, that just little improvements each day make a sustainable difference. Hal Higdon provides all sorts of training programs. You can train yourself from being a couch-potato with just 30min of walking and running every day for 30 days. Add 4 more weeks and you can prepare properly for a 5km race.
The suffering of running develops perseverance, and that perseverance is transferable towards achieving any goal. Once having achieved a goal, you develop the character of one who has proved himself. This will give you the hope that you can meet the challenges with which you are confronted, whatever they may be. Therefore, just as resistance to a muscle strengthens it, so challenges to our hope can strengthen it.
One step won’t take you very far;
You’ve got to keep on walking;
One word won’t tell folks who you are;
You’ve got to keep on talking;
One inch won’t make you very tall;
You’ve got to keep on growing;
One deed won’t do it all;
You’ve got to keep on going.
You may not feel up to it, but you can meet the challenges of your life. Face your fear. Stick to the plan. Press on. Attack carefully. Go hard.
Rather than being caught unaware by difficulties and trials, prepare yourself by practising perseverance. If not running, find some other hobby or activity that challenges you. Any small win is still a win.
Increase the intensity of the challenge over time and you will find hope, as you realise that you have what it takes.
And may God’s love be poured out into your heart through the Holy Spirit.
What difficulties are you facing, or have faced, in life?
What challenges can you set for yourself so as to practise persevering?
Share your experiences and/or your commitments in the Comments section below. I’d love to hear from you. Plus, making a commitment provides additional motivation, as others can hold your accountable to your goals and motivate you to keep on track.